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The abstract landscapes of Peter Lanyon upturn the rigours of perspective, exploiting the colour and tex¬ture of paint to burrow into the gritty layers of mean¬ing present within his native Cornish homeland. Neither scenic nor picturesque nor figurative, Lanyon worked into the paint his emotive engagement with places he knew well, providing immediate portraits of their character that are both tightly lyrical and distinctly raw in their execution. In a talk he gave for the British Council in 1962 about Bojewyan Farms, Lanyon described the ‘bucolic … rather earthy’ scene in the ancient village of Bojewyan, just outside St Just in Cornwall.(1) Lanyon was able to elaborate the complexity of place through the surface of the canvas, evoking something of its character through motifs, gestures and mood. In this way he might be compared to artists such as Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and Ivor Hitchens, who were seeking to go beyond the mere outward appearance of a setting to communicate what lies behind and within it. In being so strongly tied to one area it would be easy to dismiss Lanyon’s work as parochial, but there is a technical mastery and latent consciousness in the bond he has with Cornwall which evi¬dently goes beyond this, as William Feaver has pointed out: ‘The true landscapist, whether a Constable or a Cézanne, is rarely at home, so to speak, in more than one place. Lose sight of your roots and you become displaced and relatively superficial.’(2)
Lanyon was fortunate to have roots in an area that had, as a result of the onset of war, become one of the main centres of British avant-garde art, with its hub in St Ives. Having briefly attended art schools in Penzance and then the Euston Road School, Lanyon was also fortunate to be taken under the wing of Ben Nicholson, who had moved to the coastal town with his wife, Barbara Hepworth, in 1939. Lanyon’s visual education was interrupted, however, by the outbreak of hostilities, and he served in the RAF for the duration of the Second World War. There is a sense of urgency and an emphasis on sensation that give his paintings an immense charge, a quality no doubt heightened by the experiences and situations encountered while on active service. Most importantly, there is an understanding of the landscape as if from the air (in 1959 he became a gliding enthusiast).
Nicholson had taught Lanyon how to think abstractly in terms of space and form, and how to imbue these with ideas. By the late 1940s and early 1950s, whilst the paintings of St Ives by Nicholson had a certain classical thinness, Lanyon’s resonated a rich energy. During this time, he was starting to see the work of the American Abstract Expressionists, including the mature Willem de Kooning at the Venice Biennale of 1950 and later Jackson Pollock’s One (No. 31) (1950)(3) when it was shown at the ICA in 1953. Andrew Causey has described how Lanyon was able to reinvent him¬self.(4) His introduction to prominent New York artists (he later met Rothko in 1957) undoubtedly opened new possi¬bilities and freedoms in his work, and led to four solo shows there. Lanyon’s career was tragically cut short when he died in a gliding accident in 1964.
1. a reh=”http://collection.britishcouncil. org/html/work/work. aspx?a=1&id=42990§ion=/artist/”> www.collection.britishcouncil. org/html/work/work. aspx?a=1&id=42990§ion=/artist/ accessed February 2009.
2. William Feaver, ‘Introduction’, in Peter Lanyon and Andrew Lanyon, Cornwall (Penzance: Alison Hodge, 1983), 5.
3. Museum of Modern Art, New York.
4. Andrew Causey, Peter Lanyon (London: Bernard Jacobson, 1991).
Published in Passports British Council Collection, British Council, London 2009
In a recorded talk Lanyon described this work: ‘Bojewyan is a small village near St Just (in the far south west of England), probably one of the most ancient and primitive parts of the district. This isn’t a mining but a farming picture – a bucolic scene rather earthy. It’s also a triptych with three sections to it. On the left there is the sea at the top, and the grass and hayricks. The middle is some sort of animal, even a head, and on the right is the chaff which comes from corn and harvesting. In some ways it is a picture about birth and life and death … Dry stone walls that run round the fields in this part of Cornwall divide up the sections of BoJewyan Farms."
From the text of an illustrated lecture given by the artist for the British Council, 1962.
- Accession Number P345
- Dimensions 121.9 X 243.8
- Media OIL ON MASONITE
A piece of cloth woven from flax, hemp or cotton fibres. The word has generally come to refer to any piece of firm, loosely woven fabric used to paint on. Its surface is typically prepared for painting by priming with a ground.
Landscape is one of the principle genres of Western art. In early paintings the landscape was a backdrop for the composition, but in the late 17th Century the appreciation of nature for its own sake began with the French and Dutch painters (from whom the term derived). Their treatment of the landscape differed: the French tried to evoke the classical landscape of ancient Greece and Rome in a highly stylised and artificial manner; the Dutch tried to paint the surrounding fields, woods and plains in a more realistic way. As a genre, landscape grew increasing popular, and by the 19th Century had moved away from a classical rendition to a more realistic view of the natural world. Two of the greatest British landscape artists of that time were John Constable and JMW Turner, whose works can be seen in the Tate collection (www.tate.org.uk). There can be no doubt that the evolution of landscape painting played a decisive role in the development of Modernism, culminating in the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists . Since then its demise has often been predicted and with the rise of abstraction, landscape painting was thought to have degenerated into an amateur pursuit. However, landscape persisted in some form into high abstraction, and has been a recurrent a theme in most of the significant tendencies of the 20th Century. Now manifest in many media, landscape no longer addresses solely the depiction of topography, but encompasses issues of social, environmental and political concern.
A work of art comprising three separate sections intended to be seen together. The panels are usually hinged together so that they can be closed like a book. This format was originally devised for portable altarpieces depicting scenes from the Christian Bible.
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